What’s up in Aotearoa NZ?

The Complex Conversations Project

A team within the University of Auckland, supported by funding from the MBIE Endeavour Smart Ideas project fund, has initiated the complex conversations unit led by Dr. Tatjana Buklijas. Their project at present has two parts:

  • an investigation of current practices in public engagement in New Zealand to identify what works and what does not;
  • a project working with Watercare conducting trials of deliberative mini-publics.

The Watercare project has run a series of four 3-hour workshops during July and August 2021, with participants recruited by email by random selection from Watercare’s customer database. A link to a podcast describing the Watercare project in the Businesslab Beyond Consultation podcast series, Episode 28, is provided in the complex conversations website.

This series of workshops was conducted as a learning exercise, and from my point of view there were a number interesting comments:

  • several participants said that receiving a personal and individual invitation was a factor in their agreeing to participate;
  • participants were highly engaged and hungry for information;
  • the majority of participants, when asked, said they would certainly be willing to have another go;
  • during the deliberations, some participants changed their minds.
  • some participants said that the involvement of the University of Auckland and not just Watercare made them think the workshops would not just be a PR exercise.
Central government

There are at least two government bodies with an interest in participatory and deliberative practices. One is the Public Services Commission, designated as the New Zealand contact for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which New Zealand joined in 2013. There is a website devoted to OGPNZ , which is maintained by the Public Services Commission. However, the strand of the OGP which concerns participatory practices has been passed to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC). Currently (Sep 2020) there is a section in the DPMC Policy Toolbox which addresses the use of citizens’ juries. This section was drafted in Aug 2017, and is, I believe, due to be updated as part of the current OGP National Action Plan.

Under the current, third, National Action Plan there are are a number of commitments. The one relevant here is Commitment 5: Public participation in policy development. The latest progress report on this commitment covers the period January to June 2020, and the effects of Covid19 on progress. There is now a revised set of milestones and completion dates. The milestones that will be in interest here concern the identification of a ‘live’ policy issue in which to trial public engagement in policy development that is higher on the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation than inform or consult, as a demonstration project. This milestone has been completed with the December 2020 issue of the Demonstration Project Report: Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. Following from this the DPMC intends to  disseminate widely the results of the above actions, starting in December 2020 and finishing in June 2021.

However, there is a possibility that the trial and the dissemination of the results are intended for the civil service only. It is not clear.

The other government body with an interest in public participation is the Department of Internal Affairs, which has on its website links to a number of internal publications on  good practice in participatory processes. The Department also recently commissioned a research report on Participatory Practices in Local Government which was presented in December 2019.

The DIA also, through the digital services wing of the Government Information Services, thinks about the contribution that such services might make to engagement with the public. In March 2018 they produced a report on this.

Local government

Under the Local Government Act, local authorities are required to produce policy documents for their interactions with the public. The only one I have seen is Auckland Council’s Significance and Engagement Policy, which was published in December 2014. An update of this policy is in the pipeline but disappointingly there is little change proposed to the current methods of consultation and engagement, and certainly no discussion of mini-publics.